Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Festivities continue... Making Srikhand and Amrakhand!!

Diwali is over, but we are still continuing the festivities :D !
One all time favourite sweet is srikhand and amrakhand and Diwali was just the ocassion to indulge in my sweet tooth!
I remember in childhood, my parents would bring srikhand for Dussehra, Diwali from a particular place in Dadar west in Mumbai- Samant Loniwale , which always had a heavy rush for 'chakka' ( thick yogurt obtained after draining whey) and srikhand.
They would generously top the srikhand with nuts, saffron and nutmeg powder.. YUM!!
For years we bought store made srikhand, then later just 'chakka' and at home added sugar and desired topping... but the best tasting srikhand was when my Father made it at home from scratch! so now that he is with me for Diwali, we though that this ocassion called for Baba made srikhand and amrakhand because I love it!

Sincce this was my first attempt at making srikhand (with Baba's instructions) I made a small quantity...

4 cups whole milk yogurt (low fat / reduced fat is a strict no-no) I got 'Sadaf' brand from the store here which is so far the best yogurt I found in US !!
1 1/2 cup sugar (more if u have a very sweet tooth)
Few strands saffron
1/4 spn. nutmeg powder
Fine muslin cloth ( a big handkerchief will work just as well)
Bit of string

In a plate lay the hanky and put the yogurt in it, like so.....

Draw up the edges of the cloth/ hanky and let the whey drip...
Secure the yogurt in the hanky with a bit of string like a 'potli'...

Hang the 'potli' and let it drip for nearly 4-5 hoursor until the whey is FULLY drained.
Remove the yogurt (chakka) from the hanky, add sugar and churn with your hand (so as to remove any chunky bits of yogurt) to make it smooth.
Add nutmeg powder and mix well. Heat a couple of spoons of milk add saffron so that you get a lovely colour and flavour. Add this to the yogurt. Garnish with chopped nuts (almonds, pistachios ) if you want.

To make Amrakhand, Add sugar and mango pulp to the yogurt, mix well and serve with puri / fulka.



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Monday, October 23, 2006

My Diwali sweets and namkeens...

I made just 4 items this Diwali.... Had I been in India, I would have made a lot more, but here being on my own ( with Mom to guide of course!!) I kept the number of items to a minimum.
This is my spread.
Clock wise Shankarpali,Chivda, Chakli and Besan Ladoo
I hope all of you have had a wonderful Diwali and here's hoping that the whole year is bright and colorful and happy!!
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Chakli on Padwa

The fourth day is PADWA or VARSHAPRATIPADA which marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day.

Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. As per Vishnu-Puran the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indira and worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. But Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella.

Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura and on this day of Diwali people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung, hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them.

This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning mountain of food. In temples specially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as "Bhog" and then the devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it.

Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in every Hindu household and her blessings sought for success and happiness. This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture. In many Hindu homes it is a custom for the wife to put the red tilak on the forehead of her husband, garland him and do his "Aarathi" with a prayer for his long life. In appreciation of all the tender care that the wife showers on him, the husband gives her a costly gift. This Gudi Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day newly-married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents.

Making chakli is a difficult task, or so I thought, till Mom came to the rescue ( don't they always?!?) and gave me another sure- fire recipe, which never fails and the chaklis are extremely crispy.
So if your chaklis are too hard, or crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, or you have a recipe for chakli that simply eats up oil.. then try my method!
Take :
3 cups Rice flour

1 cup All purpose flour (maida)

1/2 cup Ghee

1 Tsp. Red chilly powder

1/2 tsp. Turmeric
1 tsp. Sesame
1/2 tsp. Ajwain
1 tsp each Corriander and cuminseed powder
1/2 tsp. Asafetida
1/4 tsp. sugar
Salt to taste
Warm water to knead a dough
In a plate, take the ghee, add the chilly pwd. turmeric, asafetida, sesame, ajwain, corriander-cumin pwd., salt
and sugar. Mix all the above thoroughly, using fingers. Till the ghee becomes frothy.Now add the maida and rice flour and mix well. Now, very slowly, add warm water and knead into a dough (I needed approx. 1 cup water). It looks like so...
To make the chakli, use a chakli dough press.. I have an ancient one.. looks like this
Make equal portions of the dough,like hotdog franks..
Put these into the dough press and make chaklis on a sheet of plastic, makes it easy to pick up and deep fry (whoof! my hands were aching by the time I had finished the first dozen!) Oh for a new dough press!
Deep fry the chaklis on a med-high flame to a crispy golden colour. Drain on a tissue paper.
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Besan Ladoo on Lakshmi Pujan

The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya. The strains of joyous sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Lakshmi in a wondrous holy "pouring-in" of his heart. All of a sudden that impenetrable darkness is pierced by innumerable rays of light for just a moment and the next moment a blaze of light descends down to earth from heaven as golden-footed Deep-Lakshmi alights on earth in all her celestial glory amidst chantings of Vedic hymns. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity. When the sun sets in the evening and ceremonial worship is finished all the home-made sweets are offered to the goddess as "NAIVEDYA" and distributed as "PRASAD". Feasts are arranged and gifts are exchanged on this day gaily dressed men, women and children go to temples and fairs, visit friends and relatives. Everything is gay, gold and glitter!

On this auspicious day Lord Shri Krishna around whom revolved the entire story of our great epic Mahabharat and the philosopher, who preached Karmayog through his Geeta to Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, discarded his body.

Bhagwan, Mahavir, the Jain prophet also attained "Nirvan" on this day.
One very interesting story about this Diwali day is from Kathopanishad of a small boy called Nichiketa who believed that Yam, the god of Death was as black as the dark night of amavasya. But when he met Yam in person he was puzzled seeing Yam's calm countenance and dignified stature. Yam explained to Nichiketa on this Diwali day of amavasya that by only passing through the darkness of death, man sees the light of highest wisdom and then only his soul can escape from the bondage of his mortal frame to mingle with the Supreme Power without whose will not an atom moves in the world. And then Nichiketa realised the importance of worldly life and significance of death. Nichiketa's all doubts were set at rest and he whole-heartedly participated in Diwali celebrations.
I made Besan Ladoo on this day.. a little late, I agree, but I had a lot of catching up to do with my parents whom I have met after a long time!
So today I measured :
2 cups of Besan (gram flour )
1 cup Ghee
1.5 cups of powdered / castor sugar
1/2 tsp of Nutmeg powder
Roast the besan in ghee till it is golden color, like so...
Let this cool down completely. Add the sugar, nutmeg powder, mix thoroughly and roll into ladoos.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Narakchaturdashi

The second day of Dwali is called NARKA-CHATURDASHI or CHOTI DIWAL which falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The story goes that the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur ( a province to the South of Nepal) after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints in his harem. On the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. As a symbol of that victory Lord Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon king's blood. Krishna returned home in the very early morning of the Narakachaturdashi day. The womenfolk massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Since then the custom of taking bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice specially in Maharashtra.

In South India that victory of the divine over the mundane is celebrated in a very peculiar way. People wake up before sunrise prepare blood by mixing Kumkum in oil and after breaking a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon King Narkasura, that was smashed by Krishna, apply that mixture on their foreheads. Then they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.

In Maharashtra also, traditional early baths with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders are a `must'. All through the ritual of baths, deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks are there in order that the children enjoy bathing. Afterwards steamed vermiceli with milk and sugar or puffed rice with curd is served.

Another legend is about King Bali of the nether world mighty power had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the guise of a Batu Waman- a small boy- visited him and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philanthropy King Bali proudly granted him his wish. That very moment that small boy transformed himself into the all-powerful Lord Vishnu. With his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his head. Putting his foot on his head Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. At the same time for his generosity Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom.

This Narakachaturdashi day therefore is dedicated to lights and prayers heralding a future full of joy and laughter.

For me this day always brings back the fondest memories! The first thing on the agenda was bursting a 'rassi bomb' to wake up the society, and there was always a competition who would be the First!! Well, I would wake up early, but ALWAYS took a LOT of time to put light to the 'rassi bomb', once that done I would run pell-mell into the house and crouch till the darn thing went off!! And for the remainder of the festival, content myself with 'flowerpots', 'chakris' !!
My favourite savoury item in Diwali (and otherwise) is Chivda. I can eat it for any meal!! And any quantity too!! It is low calorie compared to other sweets and savoury items!And ofcourse it is easy to make....

You need :
1 lbThin Poha
1/2 cup Peanuts
1/2 cup dalia
5 tsp sesame seeds
10 -12 green chilies (vary to taste)
Few curry leaves
1 spn asafetida
1 spn. Mustard seeds
1 spn. Cumin seeds
1 spn. lightly roasted & roughly ground corriander (cilantro seeds)
Salt to taste
2- 2.5 spn. sugar (optional)
5 spns. oil

In small lots, microwave the poha (spread out in a microwave safe dish, set on high heat for 30 secs. quick toss them around, run for another 30 secs.) This will make the poha crispy and light! Let the poha cool, then break it in two, if they snap easily.... it is crisp and ready to use.
One word of caution... do not run the poha for straight 60 secs. if the heat is too much, they will curl up.
Heat oil in a big wok / kadhai. Add mustatd seeds, as they pop, add cumin seeds, peanuts, dalia, asafetida, chilies, curry leaves , sesame. fry well tll the peanuts are a lovery brown colour and the chilies and curry leaves turn crispy.
now switch off the heat and add the poha. Mix thoroughly.Add salt and Sugar. (Be careful of the salt, a little goes a long way!!!!)
Let the chivda cool down completely, then store in an air tight container.
*You can add fried cashewnuts and dry coconut bits in the chivda.
In




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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Diwali!! Dhanteras.. Day 1

Orange glow of twinkling diyas..Multi-coloured Rangoli ..floral decorations and fireworks this festival heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuring year!
Diwali or more aptly Deepavali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.
The word "Diwali" is the corruption of the Sanskrit word "Deepavali" - Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. It means a row of lights and indeed illumination forms its main attraction.
The First day is called DHANTERAS or DHANTRAYODASHI which falls on the thirteenth day of monthof Kartik. The word "Dhan" means wealth. As such this day of the five-day Diwali festival has a great importance for the rich mercantile community of Western India. Homes and Business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils. "Lakshmi-Puja" is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. "Bhajans"-devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and "Naivedya" of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer as Naivedya.
A very interesting story about this day is of the sixteen year old son of King Hima. As per his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband's boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went on telling stories and singing songs. When Yam, the god of Death arrived there in the guise of a Serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the Prince's chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away.Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "YAMADEEPDAAN" and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to Yam, the god of Death.

Back to the sweets now..... my Parents are with us during Diwali, so it is like a double celebration for me and M, especialy as it is my first Diwali after marriage!
I started by trying to make something 'different', but sadly that did not work out to my expectation, and after all the cleaning up and the excitement of having my parents arriving one day before Diwali, I decided to do what is the 'never- fail' recipe.... I wanted to make 'shankarpali'... but this time with a sure fire recipe... no time to experiment..

So I measured :
1 cup water
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups maida (All Purpose Flour)
2 pinches baking soda
Pinch salt
Oil for deep frying

Boil the water, oil and sugar. Switch off the heat.. Add maida, salt and B.Soda, mix well.. cover and keep aside for a while for the mixture to cool down. After that, knead the dough . Make smalls balls of the dough and roll out a chapatti. With the aid of a knife cut diamond shapes. Deep fry to a golden colour. Store in an airtight jar after they are completely cooled.

* Edited to add: one reader has supplied the following information: Kartik month (as per hindu moon calender)starts the day after the diwali.Dhanteras is the 13th day of Asweja month.

I also wish to state that the information I had was from a google search .
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Dabeli Roti

Go top on the street food chart!! Just the thing when u want to have something real small time when you are on the go….
I remember the first time my uncle introduced me to this yummy snack….. we stopped in small stall on the street where this guy seemed to be busily and deftly stuffing what seemed like small ‘pav’ with some mixture, and people waiting were drooling….. oh, ok! I’ll have a go (skeptic huh!) So Uncle got me this toasted ‘dabeli’… one bite and I was hooked!
I could not make out this spice, seemed like nothing I had eaten, yet vaguely familiar… ok, one more.. just to check the taste!
For years now I have eaten a ‘dabeli’ off the streets in Mumbai, but I tried making this only when I came to CA… I really missed eating it!
And it’s really easy to assemble it too! This is how I managed it…..


You need
Pav / dinner rolls (unsweetened)
Butter

For the stuffing:
2 large Potatoes
Kutchi dabeli Masala (ready packs)
1 finely chopped onion
3-4 spoons finely chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Grapes (about 12)
1 spoon pomegranate (optional)
Tamarind paste
Jaggery
2 spoons oil
Peanuts (deep fried) another good option is to use dry roasted peanuts, available in all stores

Boil the potatoes, peel and mash them.
Heat oil in a wok, add the mashed potatoes and the Dabeli masala, add salt mix well and cook for a min.
Mix the tamarind paste and jaggery to make a sweet-sour chutney (1:2)
Slice the grapes in 2 (pop a few in ur mouth!).
Slice the dinner roll in the middle (don’t cut thru), scoop in a large spoon of the potato mixture; add some of the chopped onion, peanuts. Top with cilantro, few sliced grapes , pomegranate and close
On the other side of the mixture, apply the tamarind jaggery chutney.
Heat a tava, drop some butter and roll the ready dabeli on it and toast. Serve hot!

(Ideally, the mixture is set in a huge plate and garnished with grapes, pomegranate, grated carrot, which is just scooped onto the pav… but I chose my higgedly-piggedly way of doing it!)








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Monday, October 09, 2006

Tomato Rasam from the Iyer Kitchen

There are a few things that really make one feel nice, warm and comfortable... it is that way for me with rasams!

Whenever I catch a cold (or even if I do not.. Brows ) or the weather turns nippy, like now, I like my hot bowl of rasam.. spreads a glow, if you know what I mean..

I had this friend in college who was an Iyer. Now, she used to live very near the college, which to our group translated into one thing only... when we had exhausted our supply of pocket-money and we felt mal- nourished, we would raid her kitchen. Her Mom was sporting too, and when we descended on her like a pack of hyenas, she would make us some food in a jiffy which was very tasty. On such ocassions I'd pitch in and help.. not fair having one lady cook for a dozen hungry *ahem* hyenas, is it? !!

M and I were reminiscing about old days, college days and I remembered all these little things. Smiling to myself I decided to try this out... I don't have a cold, but yearned for rasam!... do I still remember how Aunty made it? Let me try... Lets see now...... I need :

4 Med. Size tomatoes

2 dry red chilies

3-4 curry leaves

½ sp. Bengal gram (chana) daal

¼ sp. Cumin seeds

¼ sp. Mustard seeds

½ sp. Tamarind pulp

1 sp. Jaggery

2 pinches asafetida

Salt to taste

Cilantro

Blanch tomatoes in hot water. Gently peel and mash them. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a kadhai. Add the chana daal, cumin and mustard seeds, asafetida, red chilies and curry leaves. Sauté till the daal turns golden in color. Add the mashed tomatoes, tamarind pulp, jaggery, salt. Boil for a few mins.

Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Serve hot




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Monday, October 02, 2006

JFI 6 - GHEE

RamPrasad Ladoo

Or let's say Whole Wheat flour ladoos... but my Father calls them Ram Prasad Ladoo.... I don't know why.. maybe his Mum called it that, maybe my Father made up this name! But this is a sweet my Father makes, and makes it very well, and I have wonderful memories of my Father slaving over the hot 'kadhai' and then rolling the knobbly ladoos because I ' want to eat some right now!'. I prefer this ladoo, over any other ladoo not just because of the wonderful memories attached to them but also because they are wholesome and tasty.
It seemed apt to make these on Dussehra.. also my entry for JFI- Ghee

I also found this interesting story behind the Dussehra celebration:
THE DUSSEHRA FESTIVAL falls during the moon lit fortnight, i.e., on the 10th. day of the waxing moon in the month of Kwar. Thus, this festival comes some time in September or October, depending on the Tithi (as determined by the Hindu calendar).

On this day in the Treta (or Trita) Yur, Ram (the 7th incarnation of Vishnu), killed the great demon Ravan, who had abducted Ram's wife Sita to his kingdom of Lanka. Ram, along with his brother Lakshman and follower Hanuman, and an army of monkeys fought a great battle to rescue his lovely wife Sita.

The war against Ravan lasted for ten days and the story of Ram and Sita is recounted with affection and love in the great epic Ramayana. To this day the whole of Ramayana is enacted in dramas staged in huge pandals and maidans, in cities, towns and villages. Beautiful tableaux of actors in costumes of ancient times are taken around the city before they culminate at the venue where the action takes place.

Ram was a great believer in the powers of goddess Durga, and he prayed to her for nine days before he himself entered the battlefield on the tenth day.

On this day he killed Ravan, Meghnad and Kumbhakaran, and people proclaimed it as the greatest victory of good over evil. The day became known as Dussehra and we still celebrate it with gusto, connecting us with the impotant events of the distant past. Huge effigies of Ravan, his brother Kumbhakaran and his son Meghnad are made, and filled with large quantities of crackers and fireworks. At just about sunset, an actor depicting Ram shoots an arrow from his bow, which hits the Ravan effigy in his navel (where a pot of nectar - the reason for Ravan's invincibility - was stored, and none could kill him unless he knew the secret of drying this nectar by shooting straight into the navel).
This was revealed to Ram by Ravan's own brother Vibhishan, who had changed sides and had become the great adviser to Ram on the affairs of Lanka. Similarly, the other two effigies are set alight. The effigies become a huge display of fireworks for the children and elders to feast their eyes on, and to bring delight to their hearts. A great deal of noise is made as the crackers burst and this provides joy and happiness. Children are given full liberty to buy bows, arrows and all the other items, which abound in the mela. In North India, the grounds where Ram Leelas are held are known as baaras and amateur actors get a chance to exhibit their talent to the full.

In Bengal the occasion is celebrated as the day on which Durga Ma killed the terrible demon Mahishasur (and the Goddess is also known as Mahishasurmardini). The essence is the same - this festival is celebrated all over India as a symbol of victory of good over evil.

For the ladoos :

2 cups Whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups grated jaggery (equal amount of jaggery : wheat flour if you prefer sweet)

1 small spn. cardamom powder

3/4 cup Ghee


Heat a 'kadhai', roast the flour on ghee till it turns a warm light honey colour and the aroma wafts thru the kitchen to the other rooms! Add the grated jaggery, cardamom powder. Mix thoroughly and make ladoos while the mix is still warm.




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